Category Archives: Rare Books

Choose Your Own Adventure: High Seas

You are the captain of a ship bound for Carolina. As you near the coastline, your normally brave crew begins to mutter about treacherous waters—and possible mutiny.

What do you decide to do?

Onward! The sea is no place for cowards!

Turn around and head for safe harbor!

(Details from A New Discription [sic] of Carolina, ca. 1671.)

Should you be lucky enough to make it to land, our friends at Preservation Underground reveal the terrors that await you!

RBMSCL Travel Grants: $$$ to Visit Us!

Photo by Mark Zupan.

Good news, researchers! The RBMSCL is now accepting applications for our 2011-2012 travel grants.

The Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture, the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture, and the John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History will award up to $1,000 per recipient to fund travel and other expenses related to visiting the RBMSCL. The grants are open to undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, independent scholars, artists, and activists living outside a 100-mile radius from Durham, NC with research projects that would benefit from access to the centers’ collections.

More details—and the grant application—may be found on our grants website. Applications must be postmarked or e-mailed no later than 5:00 PM EST on January 31, 2011. Recipients will be announced in March 2011.

We’re also excited to announce that the RBMSCL will be offering three new grants this year for scholars interested in using our German Studies and Judaica collections. Additional information about applying for one of these three grants will be available on our grants website soon. These new grants will have a later deadline.

O Pioneers!

Seth reads the Book of Mormon. Photo by Beth Doyle.

For many members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the experience of holding and reading a first edition copy of the Book of Mormon—including one of the two held at the RBMSCL—elicits reverence and profound emotion.

According to the church, the Book of Mormon is the record of ancient Americans and their relationship to God, and includes a visit from Christ after his resurrection. Joseph Smith, under God’s direction, received and translated the work before its 1830 publication in Palmyra, New York, and reestablished the priesthood and Christ’s church.

While the information contained within the Book of Mormon can be found in any of the over one hundred million copies (in 108 different languages), a copy of the first edition represents a physical connection to a prophet, the church’s origins, and God. Indeed, it is among the most requested of our holdings.

From the start, the church suffered intense persecution, moving several times from New York to Kirtland, Ohio to Missouri to Nauvoo, Illinois. This persecution eventually resulted in the death of Joseph Smith and the start of a great western migration lead by religious leader Brigham Young (in time, Young would be sustained as a prophet and Joseph Smith’s successor as the president of the church).

Beginning in April of 1847, Young lead approximately 70,000 pioneers on a western migration from Illinois. On July 24th of that year, weary pioneers arrived in the Great Salt Lake Valley, their new home and the future capital city of Utah. This day is celebrated annually by the Latter-Day Saints as Pioneer Day.

Brigham Young prayed that God would grant the pioneers 10 years of peace, which they received almost to the day. In 1857, based on fictitious reports of a “Utah Rebellion,” President James Buchanan appointed Alfred Cumming to replace Young as governor of Utah Territory and sent 2,500 soldiers to quell the supposed uprising. Upon arrival, Cummings discovered a people fearful of attack but respectful of his new position as governor. This experience is documented in the correspondence between Young and Cumming found in the RBMSCL’s Alfred Cumming Papers. These letters, like the first edition copies of the Book of Mormon, represent a relationship to a prophet and a history and are available for you to come see.

Post contributed by Seth Shaw, Electronic Records Archivist. Thanks to Kelly Wooten, Research Services and Collection Development Librarian, for suggesting this post and to Beth Doyle, Collections Conservator, for the photograph.

The Star-Spangled Cucumber

As archivists, we know that we’re supposed to mark the Fourth of July with a remembrance of that most celebrated of documents, our Declaration of Independence. We think, though, that we’ll leave the remembering and celebrating to our fine colleagues at the National Archives, and give some attention to a document of a completely different sort—a pamphlet bearing one of the most wonderful titles we’ve ever come across:

Lest you think we’re joking, here’s a link to the catalog record. The pamphlet reprints an oration delivered by David Daggett to the citizens of New Haven, Connecticut on the Fourth of July, 1799.

Of course, at the risk of spoiling the fun, we have to note that the title is actually a reference to Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. Since Swift was a pretty funny guy himself, we’re hoping you’ll forgive us.

Happy Fourth of July from the RBMSCL!

Thanks to Beth Ann Koelsch, who brought this treasure to our attention many years ago.

New Audubon Birds on Display

We’ve just turned the pages of our double elephant folio edition of John James Audubon’s Birds of America.

This month, stop by the RBMSCL’s reading room (103 Perkins) during open hours to view these new prints:

Red-headed Woodpecker (Picus erythrocephalus)
Hooping Crane (Grus americana; at left)
Rough-legged Falcon (Buteo lagopus)
Blue Jay (Corvus cristatus)

Visit this earlier blog post for a brief explanation of the monthly page turning.

New Audubon Pages on Display

Stacks Manager Josh Larkin-Rowley and Duke Law student Amanda Pooler examine Audubon's Raven.

Every month, RBMSCL staff members turn the pages of the four volume double elephant folio set of John James Audubon’s Birds of America. This keeps the rare volumes from developing “preferential openings”—tendencies to open to one particular page that often result when books are on display for long periods of time.

Duke Law student Amanda Pooler, making her first visit to the Rare Book Room, helped select the new openings. She chose the Brown Pelican (Pelicanus Fuscus), the state bird of her native Louisiana, as well as the Raven (Corvus Corax); the Carolina Parrot (Psittacus Carolinensis); and the Kittiwake Gull (Larus Tridactylus).

Stop by the RBMSCL reading room (103 Perkins) during open hours to view these gorgeous prints.

Thanks to Beth Doyle, Collections Conservator, for helping with this post. Check out Beth’s own post on the Audubons over at Preservation Underground.

“Abusing Power: Satirical Journals from the Special Collections Library”

Date: 22 February-11 April 2010
Location and Time: Perkins Library Gallery during library hours
Contact Information: Meg Brown, meg.brown(at)duke.edu

"Pobre España" by Anonymous. From La Flaca, 12 September 1872.

The RBMSCL’s outstanding collection of over 60 satirical magazines from Europe and North and South America offers a panoramic view of international journalistic caricature from its origins in the 1830s to the present day. This exhibit, which gathers vivid examples from these periodicals and places them in their historical context, surveys the spectrum of comic journalism, examining the visual languages of graphic satire, and investigating its rhetorical power.

Curated by Neil McWilliam, Walter H. Annenberg Professor in the Department of Art, Art History & Visual Studies with the assistance of students in his “From Caricature to Comic Strip” course, the exhibit coincides with “Lines of Attack: Conflicts in Caricature,” an exhibition of contemporary and historical graphic satire at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University.

To see images from the exhibit, and to learn more about the RBMSCL’s collection of satirical journals, visit the exhibit’s online guide.

A Glorious Revolution

Early in Gloriana; or The Revolution of 1900, a rare 1890 novel recently acquired by the RBMSCL, the heroine, twelve-year-old Gloria de Lara, stands on the seashore, plotting:

“I was imagining the foam flakelets to be girls . . . and I looked upon them as my audience. I told them . . . of all the wrongs that girls and women have to suffer, and then I bade them rise as one to right these wrongs. I told them all I could think of to show them how to do so, and then I told them that I would be their leader, and lead them to victory or die. And the wavelets shouted. . . . I seemed to hear them cheer me on, I seemed to see them rising into storm, the wind uprose them, and their white foam rushed towards me, and I seemed to see in this sudden change the elements of a great revolution.”

Years later, posing as a man named Hector l’Estrange, Gloria wins a seat in Britain’s Parliament . . . and you’ll just have to visit the RBMSCL and read the book to find out the rest.

Lady Florence Dixie
Lady Florence Dixie. From the Illustrated London News, March 1883.


The novel’s author, Lady Florence Dixie, was a prominent travel writer and advocate for women’s rights. At her death in 1905, British women were denied the right to vote. 92 years ago today, the Representation of the People Act, which granted voting rights to women over 30, received Royal Assent.

The book joins the Glenn Negley Collection of Utopian Literature as an especially interesting example of feminist utopian writing.

“I Take Up My Pen: 19th Century British Women Writers”

Date: 15 December 2009-21 February 2010
Location and Time: Perkins Library Gallery during library hours
Contact Information: Meg Brown, meg.brown(at)duke.edu

An Amusing Story by T. Conti
“An Amusing Story” by T. Conti. From the Illustrated London News, 1 April, 1893

Tumultuous, changeable 19th century Britain was the era of the professional woman writer. Amid emerging controversies over women’s suffrage and a woman’s rights over her property, her children, and her own body, women demanded a place alongside men in the world of letters to contribute to cultural discourse, to make their opinions heard, and to tell their own stories.

“I Take Up My Pen: 19th Century British Women Writers” focuses on women’s use of writing as a powerful tool to alter their positions within a social order that traditionally confined them to the home. The women represented here—including Jane Austen, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and the Brontë sisters—are lecturers, suffragists, publishers, world travelers, professional writers, poets, journalists, and labor reformers. The exhibit also highlights the fascinating array of literary publications available to 19th century readers and writers: everything from periodicals and the penny press to three-volume bound editions, gift books, pamphlets, letters, and diaries.

Curator Angela DiVeglia arranges exhibit materials
Curator Angela DiVeglia arranges exhibit materials

An online guide to the exhibit offers links to the digitized full-text versions of many rare 19th century works in the RBMSCL’s collections.

“I Take Up My Pen: 19th Century British Women Writers” is presented by the Duke University Libraries and curated by Sara Seten Berghausen, Angela DiVeglia, Anna Gibson, and William Hansen with co-sponsorship from the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture and the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation.

For more pictures of the curators installing this exhibit, visit the Duke University Libraries on Flickr!

In the Lab: The Theatrum Orbis Terrarum

We’re going to be teaming up with our friends in the Verne and Tanya Roberts Conservation Lab here at the Duke University Libraries for a regular series of posts on RBMSCL materials in the lab for conservation treatment. We’ll start with a look at the Dutch-language edition of the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum.

A Little History

This six-volume world atlas was created and published between 1648 and 1655 by Willem Janszoon Blaeu and his son, Joan Blaeu, two of the finest map makers of the 17th century.

Dutch cartographer and publisher Willem Blaeu (1571-1638) studied astronomy and cartography under the well-known astronomer and alchemist Tycho Brahe. In 1633, he was appointed the official cartographer of the Dutch East India Company. Joan Blaeu (1596-1673), himself an accomplished cartographer, took over the press after his father’s death in 1638. Under his supervision, they became the largest publisher of their kind in 17th century Europe.

These folio volumes are full of engraved maps and vignettes that were hand-colored with a strikingly vibrant palette. They are bound in gold-tooled stiff-board vellum bindings.

Conservation Work

The atlases arrived in the lab in fairly good condition considering their age. Still, due to their size, it will take Erin Hammeke, Special Collections Conservator, many hours to complete the necessary repairs.

The texts and maps are printed on a good quality rag paper that is still quite strong. There are minor paper tears, badly folded maps, and some insect holes in all of the volumes which make safe handling difficult. The vellum bindings also exhibit small tears that need to be mended.

Each atlas requires surface cleaning to remove dirt and debris from the covers and individual pages. Erin will use soft brushes, special erasers, and a museum vacuum, all of which are designed to remove debris while reducing potential damage to the paper’s surface. Wheat starch paste and strong but thin Japanese and Korean tissues are used for the paper repairs. When the conservation is complete, Erin will construct a custom fitted enclosure for each volume.

Post contributed by Beth Doyle, Collections Conservator, and Erin Hammeke, Conservator for Special Collections

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